Saturday, January 13, 2018



By, Shannon Thomas Casebeer
Word count, 10,500


Many books are intended to provide escape through a long, convoluted plot, which is fully appreciated only at the conclusion. This is not that kind of a book. As the title suggests, this little narrative is merely intended as a pleasant stroll. It’s one and only purpose is to provide a pleasant diversion, a few steps at a time, anytime, and often. Share it with others who might benefit from a good leg stretching.  THE AUTHOR


To my beloved ancestors, and the faith and fortitude that drove them to pursue their dreams, this innocuous little parable is affectionately dedicated.


Each and every day, each and every one of us, regardless of our circumstances, has a choice. We can squander our time fingering old welts, second guessing past decisions, and tormenting ourselves over the poor choices of others; or we can embrace a new day, brimming with opportunities for doing justly, loving mercy, and building foundations for a bright new tomorrow. Time is precious. Choose wisely.

My name is Shannon Thomas Casebeer. I was born in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of Northern California and raised on a little piece of paradise called Reservoir Hill.  Idyllic childhoods are mighty few and mighty far between, and I didn’t deserve one, but some of us just get lucky. Near the top of Reservoir Hill, on the banks of historic South Fork ditch and overlooking the snow-capped Sierras to the north, the coastal range to the west, the Sacramento valley to the south, and Miller’s pear orchard to the east, were the homes of my mom’s parents and her dad’s mother, Meda Eliza Camp Daniels.

Meda’s Husband, my great grandpa, Asa Wilder Daniels, arrived in Placerville in 1888, purchased 40 acres on Reservoir Hill, operated a freight service, and served for some time as Justice of The Peace. Her father, Asa Steven Camp, arrived in Hangtown with his father, Clark, in 1849. Together they filed several claims in order to try their hand at prospecting, and then, after accompanying his father safely home, Asa returned to Placerville in 1854. 

I have many vivid memories of walking the tree lined lane from my home on Mosquito Road, up the hill past my great grandma’s home and on to the home of my grandma and granddad Daniels. Passing Great Grandma’s window I was occasionally waved down and invited inside to warm myself by her wood range and snack on the candied figs which she’d dried in the sun before steaming and coating with sugar. 

My favorite room was the kitchen.  Even now I can close my eyes and picture it in every detail just as it looked those long years ago. I can see the old wood range and hear the clanking of its lids as great Grandma painstakingly brought the range to life. I remember how the nickel handles and black cast iron stove-top shone in the flickering light of the coal oil lamp as she polished them with a wax covered bread wrapper. I smell the sulfur and see the flash and flutter of the wooden match as she lit the crumpled newspaper. I hear the cast-iron clanking of the dampers being open and the crackling of the fire as Grandma carefully fed kindling to the growing flame. I remember peeking in through the open dampers at the glowing embers on the grate, watching their light dancing on the wall, and gazing up at the warming oven in expectation of the golden brown treasures that would soon be steaming inside. On a few occasions I recall sitting in her lap in the old rocking chair. 

The wood range would crackle and pop pleasantly and great Grandma would carefully unfold and read aloud from the same little muslin book that had mesmerized my granddad as a child. Time with Granddad was always a special treat and rarely did a summer pass without Granddad seeing to it that the entire family enjoyed a series of camping trips high in the Sierras, where Granddad had camped with his family all his life. 

All variety of kith and kin accompanied us on these woodland adventures, including Granddad’s brother and sister and of course his mom, who camped with us until age 93.  As a little girl, Great Grandma’s mom, Laura Ellen Oldfield Camp, had crossed the plains by covered wagon, making the trek from Wisconsin to old Hangtown back in 1854, when the rut riddled boulevard west was often impassable, and Native Americans still thrived on vast herds of migrating buffalo. Camping was in our blood.

We camped much as the family had for generations. Granddad had built red wooden sideboards for his 1941 Chevy, so the little pickup was well prepared to house all the essentials of camping, and with the addition of a canvas cover provided snug sleeping quarters at night.  I remember well crawling from my own sleeping bag at first light, in order to join my grandparents in the cozy bed of the old Chevy. I remember Granddad’s beaming smile and mass of disheveled gray hair as he peeked from under the covers. I recall how snug and warm it felt crawling under that down comforter after kicking off my moccasins on the tailgate, the feel and smell of the canvas cover rustling in the mountain air, and gazing at stars through silhouetted pines.

Once the fire was lit, Sis and I would dress quickly and join the rest of the family, warming our backsides at a stone lined campfire and anticipating the smell of coffee brewing in the graniteware coffee pot, and the debilitating aroma of pancakes and bacon sizzling on Great Grandma’s griddle.  Stellar Blue Jays called from the canopy of old growth pines. The welcome sun cascaded down through the lush boughs of evergreen. Off in the distance rainbow trout snatched Mayflies from the cobalt blue surface of pristine mountain lake. And my mind’s eye envisioned my granddad’s granddad crossing the country by covered wagon long ago when Indians roamed these hills. 

Such were the days of my childhood, when life seemed simple, summer was perennial, and childlike faith assured tomorrows joys.  Treasure your memories, keep them fresh and never take them for granted.  Even our memories can fade with the harsh glare of time. 


We did lots of camping when I was a kid. We camped in an old canvas tent. I remember the sound as it flapped in the wind. I remember its feel and its scent.  I remember the sound of warm rain on its roof, the comfort it offered each night. I recall how I felt looking out at the stars by the campfires flickering light; the feel of my pillow at the end of the day, when my shoulders were pink from the sun, my grandmothers kiss as she tucked us in bed, after our prayers were done. First thing in the morning the fire was lit. Great Grandma brought graniteware dishes. Golden brown hotcakes for breakfast of course and for supper fried tatters and fishes. Each day we’d go swimming and play in the sand. My granddad would take us all hiking. Sis and I watched as he whittled a cane, and the stick horses more to our liking. We’d sit by the fire in the late afternoon. I’d sit in my grandmothers’ lap. Dad would go fishing. My momma would read, and Granddad enjoyed a good nap. Later on in the evening, when supper was done, there was coffee from a graniteware pot, delicious marshmallows we roasted on sticks, and dried figs that my great grandma brought. I remember the feel of hot sand on bare feet, and melon seeds stuck to my chin, the stories of camping trips long, long ago, and the way that my granddad would grin. How the decades fast have flown; how quickly reached, September. How bitter sweet the joys we’ve known. How precious to remember. How bright the wide and starry skies. How fleeting, lives long spent. How like the stars, my granddad’s eyes, and life ephemeral, much like Granddads’ tent.  


As a little boy, back in the 1950s, I became very ill.  My mom and dad loaded me into the old Chevy and took me to the doctor.  A spinal tap determined that I had Poliomyelitis. Following the diagnosis, I spent several terrifying weeks confined to a hospital ward at Kaiser Hospital in Vallejo, California.  There I saw other children struggling with the crippling disease.  Some were in braces. Some were confined to iron lungs. Some never walked again.  Some never left the facility.  Some died.

One night, all alone in my room and scared half to death, I remembered one of my favorite books back home.  The title of the little children’s book was “Jesus, A Boy’s Friend”. I began praying as only a terrified child can pray. I prayed and cried until I finally fell asleep.  Several days later the doctor had good news. My symptoms were gone. They were free to take me home.

As I left the hospital, hand in hand with Mom and Dad that day, I began a path that has led me to this day. Some days my faith is just as strong as the day I left that hospital. Other days, not so much, but from that day to this I’ve set out each day to walk the path I’m given, in the light I’m given. On my very best days, I share that light with others.  Each of us walks a different path, revealed in a different light. As a result, we each have different perspectives, different convictions, and varying points of view. We need to show each other a little compassion and cut each other some slack.

I was only four, but I remember well the other kids in the ward with me in the hospital. I remember incubators, braces, buckets of ice, and being haunted for years by the horrific thought of spending my entire life in an iron lung.  I remember missing Mom and Dad and praying like I'd never prayed before, from that moment to this day, for anyone who suffers such a fate. I remember when I first got sick, my folks bundling me up in the old Chevy for the two mile trip to town.  I remember Doctor’s Bliss and Elliot and the spinal tap that verified the prognosis.  I remember being terrified and held down, and screaming “Daddy, Daddy!” at the top of my lungs, and the sound of a scuffle outside my door as they tried to restrain my father. I remember tugging my cowboy boots on and walking out of that hospital with Mom and Dad. And I remember being very, very thankful. I remember sitting in the bright sunshine back home on Reservoir Hill, and pondering the whole experience over and over.  And I remember all through school befriending other boys and girls, who walked funny or talked funny, or for whatever reason, didn’t quite fit in. And it warms my heart to this very day when I see folks accepted for who they are.


Back in the late 1950s, I was in elementary school.  Our bus stop was at the intersection of Meadow Lane and Mosquito road. Our bus was old number 3, and our bus driver was Mr. Vanalstien.  On the south side of the intersection was a home with a brick and daffodil lined circle drive.  It was a tight circle, and the arriving school bus generally careened around it at a pretty good clip.  We children awaited the bus under a large, spreading oak, and at the base of the oak was our bench.  I’d built the very basic bench myself by sawing two six inch cuts off an eight foot long 1” by 12”, and nailing them to the remaining board about one foot from each end.  In doing so I’d created, quite unintentionally, a state of the art catapult.  On the morning in question, half a dozen of our neighborhood gang were milling around innocently in expectation of the arrival of old #3, which was running uncharacteristically late.  My lunch bag, containing a banana, a peanut butter & jelly sandwich, and some graham crackers, was placed on the far end of the bench for easy retrieval upon the bus’s arrival.  At the sudden sound of squalling tires in the gravel, we kids scrambled to collect our gear and form a line.  Unbeknownst to us, Mr. Vanalstein was ill, and our driver today was a substitute and entirely unfamiliar with our route.  Approaching our circle drive wide and hot, the bus’s front tire unexpectedly clipped the edge of our bench.  My lunch was launched like a rocket, scattering and sifting its contents as its orbit took it up through the oak canopy and well into the hemisphere, before it descended amid the squeals of delighted children, in the form of an aromatic shower of graham cracker crumbs, peanut butter clumps, and a fine spray of grape jelly and banana cream.  The large, flat surface of the 1” by 12” proceeded to smack the side of the bus, at mach speed and with incredible force, resulting in a resounding clap of thunder, much like a full-fledged sonic boom, and ringing the entire school bus like a bell!  As the horrorstricken driver hesitantly opened the door, his eyes were wide as fruit jar lids, and I’m confident he’d soiled himself.  The vast majority of the bus’s occupants burst simultaneously into a mixed chorus of inconsolable sobbing and hysterical and convulsive laughter, which continued fitfully until we arrived some fifteen minutes later at our school.  And I’m quite confident that many of those children remember and celebrate that event to this very day, and that others are on the mend and receiving counseling.


The last weekend of the month was to feature the annual Bartlett Pear festival in Placerville.  Besides all the usual pear, apple, and produce exhibits, there was to be a horse-shoe-pitching contest and a dance at the fairgrounds. We made a day of it. By the time the dance began late that evening, I’d had just about all the fun I could stand. My plan was to peek in, size up the festivities, and head home. Several of my toes were beginning to complain about my new boots, but I was fascinated by the prospect of trying out my new western footwear on the dance floor. Just as I was preparing to leave, I locked eyes with the prettiest little red-haired girl that I’d ever seen.  She and several other young ladies were eyeing me coyly from across the dance floor, and their combined effect was more than sufficient to impair the best judgment of any naive ten-year-old, new boots and all.

I bought a mug of cider and a roasted and extravagantly buttered ear of corn, and observed the festivities from a safe distance, gleefully fantasizing about my prospects. Enthusiastic doesn’t begin to describe my state. I was exhilarated to the point of apoplexy! After finishing my refreshments, I licked my fingers; sleeve groomed my nose, and took my place alongside the other expectant onlookers, in hopes of an opportunity to join in the fun.  I didn’t have long to wait.  After a few minutes, the four young ladies whom I’d observed earlier began working their way around the floor, sizing up and critiquing the crowd of would-be dance partners. One by one they’d scrutinize the humiliated observers and point out their shortcomings, just as though they were considering plucked poultry on market day.  “What about this one?”  One would ask, and the others would offer criticisms, “too short, too tall, or too skinny!”

The most vocal, and unquestioned leader of the pack was, of course, the little red-haired girl.  She had the reddest hair, the thickest freckles, and the most luxurious get-along that I’d ever seen, and as she approached, I held my breath and felt for all the world, like the ugly duckling in an ungainly gaggle of geese.

With the rest of the pack following closely and grinning with anticipation, the little red-haired girl stepped up boldly, looked me over briefly, and then stared intently into my face.  I stared at my feet for a moment, bracing for rejection, and then swallowed hard and returned her gaze.  “Dance?” she asked enthusiastically, and offered a soft, thin, freckled hand.  My head was swimming, my heart pounded, and I was dangerously light-headed from holding my breath!  I grabbed her hand, we took our place in a newly formed square, bowed to our partner, and the fiddle began to play. My new boots proved to be a bit of a challenge. The high tops were initially bothersome, and it was some time before I grew accustomed to the dizzying altitude afforded by the two inch, under slung heels, but persistence paid off, and eventually I was able to negotiate the room with a jaunty gait reminiscent of a hatchling colt!  

That little red-headed temptress whizzed tirelessly and elegantly around the room, frock flying and pigtails trailing, and I galloped happily at her side like a gangly pup, thoroughly enraptured, in a state of perfect bliss! We alabamed right, and alabamed left, and dosiedoed squares and circles around that crowded complex for the better part of an hour, and all at once I became aware that my poor feet were throbbing madly in those new boots, and several of my toes were clearly in tremendous distress! Just then, the little red-haired girl veered hard to starboard, and we promenaded through the back door of that crowded dance floor and out into the dark emptiness of the dimly moonlit parking lot beyond.  A thousand breathtaking possibilities flooded my mind and weakened both my knees. And then, as I wrapped my arms around that warm, moist, gingham-clad form, and her sweet, cider-scented breath filled my nostrils, the stillness was suddenly shattered by a bloodcurdling screech! “Come along this minute Mariah! It’s time to head home.” “Coming Ma.” My new acquaintance bellowed back, straightening her frock and gazing into my eyes. “You live on Mosquito Road, right? “Yep!”  I responded, surprised by her sagacity.  “So you’re familiar with Meadow Lane, right?” “Absolutely!” “Well then,” she continued, sketching in the sand with her toe, “We live at the Kinney place.” “I know the place.” I replied, grinning sheepishly. “Well”, she said, “If you was to happen by our gate around lunch time tomorrow, you’d likely catch me out in the yard, swingin’.”

Suffice it to say, shortly after noon the following day, my schedule, after considerable rearrangement, brought me to the front gate of the Kinney residence on Meadow Lane. The Kinney home was a rustic affair, terraced into a steep, rocky bank.  There was a small, well-tended plot of ground where the family evidently attempted to produce vegetables. A veritable web of clotheslines surrounded the weathered house, each one waving a generous variety of well-worn linens and badly frayed overalls.  In the yard, a Yorkshire sow spread herself contentedly in the luxurious sun, as a gaggle of diaper clad toddlers mingled with the old sow’s litter and played king of the mountain on an overturned washtub. The porch was home to a threadbare sofa, and half a dozen bantam chickens sunned and preened themselves along the railing. There were youngsters of every conceivable size and shape, everywhere. Mariah is evidently one of a baker’s dozen.  

As promised, Mariah waved broadly and dismounted her swing as I approached. She introduced me to several of her siblings and suggested I meet her Ma. Mrs. Kinney was cordial enough, but her no nonsense demeanor and unblinking, head to toe assessment of me clearly suggested that I was expected to be on my very best behavior, or there’d be consequences. Having met the needs of cordiality and etiquette, Mariah suggested a walk to the creek to check on some straying siblings.  Her brother, Stephen and sister, Lizzy joined our ranks and we got underway. The Kinney home was terraced into the side of a deep ravine, and at the bottom of the ravine was an immense blackberry patch.  The tangled thicket achieved six to eight feet in height and sprawled for sixty feet across the gully and as far as the eye could see up and down the ravine.  A wet weather stream meandered through the middle, and here and there Ponderosa pines pierced the dense canopy of briars, competing for the sunshine and littering the ravine floor with a luxurious carpet of dry needles. Several of the evergreens sported tree-forts assembled from lumber and old tin roofing the children had salvaged from the wreckage of an abandoned barn.  A network of paths tunneled through the briars and Manzanita bushes connecting the forts with each other and the outer banks.  

The balmy fall afternoon was almost summer-like, and between the sounds of children at play, frogs sang from the creek bank and a pair of mourning doves cooed a melancholy refrain in the distance.  A well-traveled trail formed several switchbacks during its decent down the steep bank, and ended abruptly at a small clearing just inside the thicket.

From this point on, the four of us would have to crawl on our hands and knees.  Earlier in the season, our efforts might have been rewarded with a bounty of juicy blackberries.  The berries were long gone, but the sharp thorns remained, camouflaged by the thick purple foliage of an extended Indian summer.  Despite our best efforts, the thorns snatched at our clothes, and periodically resulted in a screech and a grimace, as a determined thorn found its mark and pierced somebody’s hide.         

As we approached a large Bull pine in the middle of a Manzanita thicket, a half-dozen more neighborhood kids paused and observed our approach, with first suspicion and then delight. Mariah is evidently highly prized by the youngsters for her ability to spin a terrifying yarn. The youngsters considered this unanticipated intrusion a real treat, and several little ones latched onto her skirt as we entered their hideout.  “Tell us a story Mariah, please!” “Tell us about the ghosts!” Mariah smiled broadly, collapsing onto the bed of needles at the foot of the towering pine. Then, motioning for me to join her, she began her tale.  “Once upon a time, there was a spooky ol’ ghost dressed all in black.”  That’s as far as she got.  One of the children was curious and had a question. “If ghosts are just spirit,” she asked musingly, “why do they need clothes at all?”  “Good question,” admitted Mariah contemplatively.  This line of interrogation piqued the other children’s curiosity, resulting in several additional questions.  “If ghosts wear clothes,” asked another, “do they have to warsh ‘em? Do ghosts get ring around the collar?” This resulted in an outburst of exuberant laughter, exacerbated by youthful enthusiasm.  A freckle faced boy perked up and his face shone with recognition of his opportunity to participate.  “I wonder,” he said, grinning with anticipation, “If ghosts get lint in their belly-buttons.” “Ghosts don’t have bellybuttons silly!” chimed a pair of twins in unison, and the entire hollow rang with squeals of laughter.

In the middle of this jocularity, the briars rustled and in stepped several more denim clad juveniles, who’d evidently overheard the ruckus from across the hollow and come to investigate the cause of all the merriment. They seemed to sense the jovial mood of the assembly immediately.  One little boy sprawled on the ground, rested his chin on his hands, and offered a yarn of his own. “You should have seen what happened at our house!  There’s a big ol’ snapping turtle in our pond. The Skinner’s cow was standing belly deep, coolin’ off the other day, when that ol’ snapper swum up and bit the end right out of one of her spickets!” The kids all groaned and grabbed their chests.  The response was spontaneous and only served to encourage the storyteller.  “‘Before we could get a tourniquet on her,” he continued, “that old cow leaked out three buckets of buttermilk!” “Oh, go on.” said Mariah.  “That ain’t nothin’!” chimed in another. “We had a big ol’ wolf trap set at our pond, tryin’ to catch a darned ol’ coon.  One of them big snappers got caught by the neck.  Before we could drag him out and give ‘im what for, that rascal chewed his head off and got clean away!  A couple of days later he come draggin’ up the hill, fit as a fiddle and carryin’ his head in his mouth!”

At that moment a distant “Helluuu,” echoed from across the hollow. “Skedaddle,” whispered Mariah, and the entire assembly vanished into the thicket. Questioning Stephen, I was enlightened. Evidently the serenity of the neighborhood is periodically disturbed by a gang of roughnecks from Hocking Street.  “Hurry up!” Whispered Mariah and she headed up the trail toward home.  

As we reached the edge of the briar patch, The Hocking Street crowd was fast approaching.  I figured this was all in good fun, but I had the impression there was an element of real risk in these maneuvers. Mariah and her siblings seemed anxious to get out of sight. We were still a hundred yards from the Kinney place at the top of the hill, when we rounded a bend and the trail forked.  “This way,” panted Stephen, as he took the right fork.  Seconds later, the four of us stood humped over and gasping for breath at the door of a ramshackle, old outhouse.  At the sound of hurried footsteps close behind, we crowded into the tiny refuge and Stephen bolted the door.  It was pitch black inside. The atmosphere was close and stifling, and the odor was exceedingly unpleasant!  I desperately wanted to hold my breath, but we were all breathing too heavily for that.  I stepped up on the business seat to help ease the crowding, and Lizzy braced herself against the door.

As I stood up on the bench, my head hit a rafter, the heat was oppressive; I was all but smothered in a veil of cobwebs, and an indignant wasp buzzed threateningly around my ears!  I started to speak to Mariah, but she pressed her finger against my lips and whispered, “hush.”  Her finger was only against my lips for an instant, but somehow her touch left me warm all over.  As I stoostraddling that outhouse seat and crouching to avoid that pesky wasp, my face was just inches from the top of Mariah’s head.  I could feel the warmth from her body and smell her long, lustrous hair. In an effort to steady myself on my perch, I put my sweaty hand on Mariah’s shoulder, and ever so gently she placed her hand on mine. I held my breath, my pulse quickened, and the band of ruffians arrived outside the door. There were muffled voices and stifled chuckling, and then in unison they counted “one, two, three,” and leaned heavily into the side of that board and batten john.  Our fragile refuge listed dangerously to starboard, that ornery wasp planted his rapier-like stinger deep into the lobe of my ear, and both my feet, new boots and all, slipped into that big black hole!

Seconds later, Stephen threw open the outhouse door; the Hocking Street gang let out with war whoops as they disappeared down the path, and the blinding light of day rushed in on a sad and sorry spectacle.  That dreadful abyss had engulfed me right up to my armpits. My ribcage was stuck tight as a cork in its terrible jaws, and a powerful aroma brought evidence; I was stuck knee-deep in that holes contents.  Abandon hope, all ye who enter here! The bowels of the beast made a hideous sucking sound as the Kinney kids laboriously extricated me.  My clenched toes clung desperately to my left boot, and that Godless pit claimed the other.  SC   


Long ago when I was young, I lived on Reservoir Hill, on the family’s forty acres, outside of Placerville. I’ve traveled far and traveled wide, but few things match the joy, of memories of Placerville, when I was a little boy; recollections of the neighborhood, of cherished childhood friends, youthful adventures long ago; what joy they bring revisited again; innocent romance, holding hands, days of carefree bliss, palms caressing as we walked, the na├»ve delight of a chewing gum scented kiss; sweet eternal summers, crowding in a car, for picnics on the riverbank, sprawled in the pleasant sands at Chili Bar; splendid weekend outings, what happy times we had, tenting, campfires, sleeping out, horseback rides, and fishing trips with Dad; weekend excursions to the lake, Highway 50s passing cars, windshield wipers slapping time to the radio in that old Ford of ours; invigorating winters, the old town all aglow, the bell tower bedight in strings of light, and familiar storefronts glistening in the snow. I’ve traveled on the Yucatan, seen sunsets from Tulum, admired the beach at Xela, and enjoyed a moonlit swim in the lagoon. I’ve strolled the streets of Edinburgh, of Dublin and Quebec, climbed Dunn’s Falls in Jamaica and gotten mighty wet. I’ve traveled Canada by rail, seen San Francisco’s sights, sipped tea at Ghirardelli Square, and marveled at a sky alive with kites. Still, no other place enthralls, no memory more excites, than memories of Placerville and Placerville’s delights. I have no fonder memory, and probably never will, than those cherished childhood memories of growing up in good, old Placerville.  SC


I enjoyed many fishing trips in bygone days with Dad. And I treasure every memory of the happy times we had. We fished the Crystal Basin, Ice House Dam, and Union Valley. We’d fish till we were tuckered out, and then old Dad would rally. We fished all day at Girlie Creek, from Wentworth Springs to Loon, lost track of time and stumbled back assisted by the moon, high in the Sierra’s where the peaks rise up forever, as though the fleecy clouds above, their summits would dissever. We only had one motor bike back when we was thrifty, so both of us rode double on my Dad’s old Honda 50. We fished above the timberline, amid grey granite boulders, way back before we had a bike, and I rode on Daddy’s shoulders. We spent cold nights at Wright’s Lake too, sheltered by the trees, and marveling at the antics of the Jeepers’ Jamboree’s; fly fished in Desolation, among its pristine lakes, with blistered toes and sunburned nose, smiling despite the aches. We outsmarted fish at upper Blue, with snowdrifts all around, and mosquitoes buzzing in our ears till they made a roaring sound; trudged through Mountain Misery till our shoes were black as tar, trolled all day with the Evinrude and smeared Zemacol by the jar! We’ve Luncheoned on the running board of Dad’s old Chevy truck, shared cold coffee and stale crackers, and counted it as luck, returned to camp with limits filled and feasted on the trout, and returned with creels empty and for supper went without. I cherish every memory, but when all is said and done, it’s not about the fishing, but a father and his son. It’s about an inconceivable bond, an indestructible tie that will be my greatest joy in life, until the day I die. Thank you God for memories of the happy times we’ve known. Thanks for all my blessings and the kindness that you’ve shown. Thanks for the very best childhood that a fellow ever had. But thank you most of all dear Lord for my ol' dad. 


Sometimes when the moon is full and the campfire flickers low, a sudden spark lights up the dark, rekindling thoughts of long, long ago. And my mind recalls a distant day as bright embers stir the fire, days of youthful romance, wistful dreams and old desire; days when mountain meadows were lush and green and fair, when cowboys combed the hills for strays and the sound of clanking cowbells filled the air; when men donned slickers and hit the trail, despite inclement weather, when canvas tents were lamp lit and smelled of kerosene and well oiled leather. I can almost see old Hangtown, when her streets were dust or mud, when her storefronts smelled of weathered wood and gold was in our blood. In my mind, I walk her boardwalks past the Hangman’s Tree saloon, and I cross the street at Cary House, and dine there on the balcony, by the moon. From my perch I see the Round Tent as it juts into the street, with horses nosing wooden troughs. I can almost smell molasses as they eat. And across from that, the Bell Tower, with its well-known promenade, and Main Street’s old, rut riddled course, past the Court House, widening for the grade. How the old days call me back, rekindling old desires, revisiting youthful romance, and stirring coals of long spent fires. Dear God, preserve our memories of dear folks on Reservoir Hill, and grant me many fireside dreams of moonlit nights in good old Placerville. 


Sometimes in the evening, when the sun is sinking low, and the pines are silhouetted, and I’ve nowhere else to go, I remember good ol’ Placerville in the distant days of yore, and I’d very nearly sell my soul to walk its streets once more; when its avenues were dusty and its storefronts weathered wood, when the girls were thin and lusty and the Ivy House still stood; when Main Street ran a rutted course and blooms were yet a bud; the only ride to town, a horse; and gold was in our blood; when the Hangman’s Tree served nickel beer, and the Cary House was new; lamp-lit saloons exuded cheer and frosty mugs of brew; the three mile house was always full, lake Tahoe days away, and folks who stopped at Hangtown almost always came to stay. Father in Heaven, hear my prayer. Dear God, please grant my plea. If I could just awaken there. If time could set me free. If once more I could stroll its streets and once more breathe it’s air, I know there’s souls aplenty Lord, who could benefit from prayer.


The sun was high, the humidity low, and the air hung heavy with the scent of Manzanita, the drone of insects, and the obnoxious screech of valley jays. We trudged on with determination all day long and right at dusk we reached the crest of a pine-covered ridge. “Over the mountains of the moon, down the valley of the shadow, ride, boldly ride, the shade replied, if you seek for El Dorado.”  So says ol’ Edgar Allan, and Lord knows Poe is well acquainted with shadows. There below, basking in the last red rays of the rapidly setting sun lay the storied metropolis of Hangtown. A small tormented creek meandered through a series of deep, pine-lined ravines, and clinging tenaciously to each bank, at close intervals and in no apparent order, squatted several dozen shake roofed structures reminiscent of the clapboard shanties that graced the Irish community back home. In addition to the rustic, wooden framed structures were numerous log cabins, and on the periphery of the settlement and lining Main Street on either side, an endless sea of tents glowed hospitably from the lamplight within.  The oak scented smoke of countless campfires hung thick in the motionless evening air, and the entire hollow twinkled in the light of countless lamps and flickering candles.  Laughter and jocularity rose spasmodically from a number of well lit gatherings down below, and a melancholy rendition of “Little Annie Laurie”, scratched out hesitantly on a pair of slightly flat fiddles, rose plaintively from a massive canvas covered structure in the center of the scene. We eventually found access to the main street and proceeded slowly and deliberately in the waning light until we reached a large open area in front of the crowded tent.  This was evidently the heart of downtown. Main Street, lined on each side with false storefronts, dropped in a gentle grade from the east; widening and splitting as it approached a long row of canvas covered shops.  At the east end of this row of shops stood a bell tower as high as any building in town.  Main Street proceeded west, past a number of dimly lit but well patronized saloons, and Center Street led quickly toward a row of barns and stables which faced the rear of the shops to their south and hung precariously over the banks of scenic Hangtown Creek to the north.


Twilight arrived early that evening. The storm abated, and despite occasional flurries the moon shone down at intervals through a partly cloudy sky, lending an eerie translucence to the scene and casting curious shadows on the glimmering snow. The breathtaking beauty of the mountains once more overcame me.  The magnificent ponderosa pines leaned and swayed precariously, each bow hanging heavy, laden with a mantel of white.  The air was still and silent, with only the occasional pop of an overburdened limb disturbing the quiet as it echoed from the canyon beyond. Smoke boiled and billowed from a forest of stovepipes, and the sound of kindling being chopped rang at intervals from a series of locations and echoed from the ravine. I stood for a long time, shivering and staring awestruck across the snow-covered Sierras.  I’ve never experienced air fresher, shadows deeper, or a scene so extraordinarily quiet and pristine.  You’ll laugh and think I’m crazy, but it seemed as though I could almost hear the stars.  On the afternoon of the fifth day, a bitter north wind whipped down from the high country. The storm returned with a vengeance and the temperature dropped to around thirty degrees.  I pulled my chair closer to the potbellied stove and poured myself some coffee from the gray graniteware pot. As twilight approached, I sat staring out the window and listening to the moan of the howling wind as it tore at the shingles and rattled the chimney cap.  I could hear the hiss of sleet as it began filling the ruts and hoof prints in the muddy street, and icicles began to form and hung in profusion from the eaves. The sleet came down fitfully against the window and periodically a gust of wind would find its way down the stovepipe and the old cast iron heater would belch smoke from around its dampers and red hot lid.  After a while the rough plank roof began dripping and leaking like a sieve, and one by one a strategically placed company of pots and kettles joined in a chorus of plinks, plops and piddles as they filled quickly with their captured leakage and began splashing rhythmically on the floor.  Clearing a spot on the frosted windowpane, I squinted and peered outside. The snow was coming down in earnest now, and the street was entirely abandoned, with the exception of a few hardy souls on the boardwalk by the bell tower. I warmed a blanket for myself, kicked back in my chair and leaned against the wall.  The stove dampers were wide open, and I remember watching the firelight dancing on the wall. Then the cobwebs came and darkness took me in.


Mosquito Road winds along ridge top and ravine and eventually crosses a lava strewn flat.  Here in the midst of pine needle covered hillsides of red clay and granite, some ancient, unrecorded volcanic action has created an unlikely landscape of unearthly geological formations and conglomerated lava.  In the middle of this desolate and unlikely location, for some reason known only to them, a handful of Chinese immigrants have established a unique and isolated community.  Here these peculiar, standoffish Argonauts prepare their ceremonial teas and enjoy the euphoric contents of their noxious clay pipes beyond the scrutiny of a disapproving society and with little fear of interruption. Finding the occupants entirely sociable, we struck up a conversation and visited for about an hour. And then, our lightly steeped libations consumed and the need for cordiality satisfied, we climbed back in the wagon and hames bells jingling continued on our way. Reaching the summit of a pine covered ridge, we rested the mules briefly and then began our cautious decent into the rugged canyon of the American River’s renowned south fork.  The already treacherous thoroughfare soon lost all semblance of a road and gradually took on the unmistakable characteristics of a dry creek bed!  Arriving eventually at the foot of a thickly wooded hill, we rode apprehensively to the edge of a deep precipice and stared in awe. At this point the prehistoric gorge was spanned defiantly by a picturesque but unnerving little suspension bridge.  Constructed of gigantic, rough sawn timbers, and suspended by equally impressive cables, the primitive little conduit proceeded courageously out into thin air, and then extended precariously at a dizzying height, over a tumultuous rush of rampaging fury.  The river was running high with the frigid runoff from the mountains generous and rapidly melting snow pack, and the reverberations of its unbridled onslaught resulted in a primal roar that literally shook the bridge. The midpoint of this remarkable swinging bridge afforded a spectacular vista of the riverbed some thirty feet below.  Beneath us, the gut wrenching force of the rampaging river boiled and bounded through a series of violently rolling rapids and unique cylindrical formations which long eons of gradual erosion had carved into the solid granite base.  The road swung immediately to the left at the opposite side of the gorge, supported by an outcropping of granite whose overhang provided home to a community of tiny bats.   Below us the restless current intermittently exhibited a fleeting streak of silver as a rainbow trout would erupt from the surface in a frenzied attempt to surmount the foaming falls.  Irrigated by the rising mists, lush growths of moss clung tenaciously to the rugged bluffs, and here and there a maidenhair fern found a hold and spread luxuriously in the canyons filtered light. Here in this unexpected haven we parked the rig and spread a quilt for lunch. Steller’s Jays piped from the canopy of Live oaks, and as the summer sun shone intermittently from behind a wispy sea of cumulus clouds, the mist that rose from the tumultuous rapids below periodically burst into a brilliant rainbow.  The temperature warmed into the low eighties, and we sprawled on our blanket luxuriously full and absorbed the summer sun. Following a long, leisurely lunch, we proceeded across the swinging bridge and began our laborious ascent.  The narrow trail ascended the cliff face in a series of narrow switchbacks, which zigzagged back and forth in a gradual climb and periodically afforded an unobstructed view, almost perpendicularly from the trails edge, one hundred feet to the boulder-buffeted torrent below. Negotiating the barely maneuverable switchbacks we eventually approached the top of a pine-covered ridge.  The distant roar of the river dissipated and grew silent, replaced by the chattering of the gregarious nuthatches and chickadees which darted in and out of the cone clad bows that hung in profusion from the pine and Douglas fir.  Gradually the incessant drone of insects and the familiar but indescribable sound of the breeze in the towering evergreens lulled us into a drowsiness which left us nodding and semiconscious in the gently rocking wagon.  The mules set their own casual pace, occasionally addressing a persistent fly with a leisurely swish of their tails, and pausing briefly from time to time to brose on a tempting morsel along the way.


1859 sounded a sweet note in old Hangtown’s colorful history.  As California’s neighbor to the east, Nevada had benefited as easterners poured through the arid, inhospitable country in route to California and its gold.  Now the tables turned.  Some 100 miles from the Sacramento Valley the remote and previously benign outpost of Virginia City, Nevada all at once exploded on the scene. With the discovery of silver, Nevada’s Comstock Lode began drawing a new generation of Argonauts. They came from far and wide enticed once again by fame, fortune, and unprecedented wealth.  Placerville would once again benefit by its fortuitous location.   As Hangtown prospered as people poured into El Dorado County for its gold, they would now find themselves strategically located along California’s route to Virginia City’s booming Comstock Lode.  The tenacious little city in the ravine would now find the traffic flow reversed, but a rush is a rush. Hangtown’s boom was back. The lure of the Comstock represented an irresistible draw to spectators, prospectors, and speculators of every conceivable kind.  Starry-eyed optimists were drawn out of southern California in droves, and the route of choice was the Placerville stage road. Old Hangtown was fast becoming civilized.  The city fathers were passing a new ordinance every week.  We knew we’d reached a new level of sophistication when they posted an ordinance which prohibited a feller from relieving hisself in the street.  The idea, though well received, soon proved impractical and was later amended to apply to Main Street only.  That was a relief!  Finally they whittled her down just right by adding the clause, during business hours. By 1860 traffic through old Hangtown was thicker than flatlanders at a water rights revolt.  You literally risked your life to cross the street. From Hangtown to Tahoe the stations and stage stops were open twenty-four/seven, but if you dared pull off you lost your place in line, and it often took hours for another chance to merge.  During the summer the dust was so deep it was like walking through sifted flour, and when it rained the mud holes could claim a horse.  It took a good forty-five minutes to drive the length of our booming metropolis, and very few managed the dust-choked travail without stopping in town for a frosty mug of beer. Many colorful saloons graced the now booming metropolis, with each establishment much like the next. The floors were strewn with numerous and sundry containers, strategically placed for the purpose of capturing leakage, and a company of tarnished brass cuspidors stood at the ready along the base of a well polished and ornate bar.  Coal oil lamps flickered determinedly from within their soot-choked chimneys, and the atmosphere was permeated with a thick cloud of noxious smoke which belched from the dampers of well-stoked wood heaters and countless cheap cigars. Against the rear wall of the establishment a humidity-ravaged piano bravely plinked out a barely recognizable medley of Irish tavern tunes, in competition with an unsympathetic chorus of clanking utensils and beverage induced jocularity.


It was many and many a year ago along an old stagecoach road, a gold camp flourished in the snow, in the heart of the mother lode. Soon the whole place went to heck, and loath to call a truce, they stretched a couple careless necks with a crudely fashioned noose. So the gold camp grew in infamy. Notoriety done the trick! And soon the little ditch was known as historic Hangtown crick. The camp was christened Hangtown too, in memory of the dead, and far and wide her legend grew as the lawless place them fellas wound up dead! Soon folks rushed in from shore to shore to pan the muddy street, with Hangtown renowned for evermore as the place to come to see them swingin’ feet. The city fathers deemed it wise to spread the gold camp’s fame. Soon gold aplenty became the prize and emptying tourists pockets became the game. When delicate womenfolk arrived the name Hangtown give ‘em grief, so a brand new name was soon contrived in the hope it might provide the men relief. Ravine City was considered, but the womenfolk groaned still, so at last the city fathers changed the name to Placerville. The little metropolis grew and grew and the townsfolk, being thrifty, began providing gasoline to the motorists they could lure from highway 50. Flatlanders now are welcome despite what you may hear, and we very rarely hang one. With ropes now coiled we count each tourist dear. So if you’d like to live on beans out west where skies are sunny, check out Old Hangtown by all means and just to play it safe bring lots of money.


We headed for Hangtown in ‘49, but never showed till ‘50. Between us we had nary a dime. Suffice it to say, we was thrifty! The Sierra Nevada’s are god-awful high! And the dang trail rugged at best. Ma took one look and groaned, “Oh my! We should have stayed home with the rest!” The creek ain’t iced up all the time. August heat is quick to thaw it. It’s just for wading. That's the crime. If there’s gold, I never saw it. The housing in Hangtown leaves much to desire. That’s the case ever’where we went. But Ma and me’s tough. There ain’t much we require, and we had a luxurious tent! The tent’s mighty cozy, though lacking for room, with a dirt floor infested with mice; damp as the dickens and cold as a tomb. The first year I froze to death twice! The wood stove was nice if ya sat on the lid. A bonfire would be better I’m thinkin’. When it dropped below thirty as often it did, it froze finials right off of the Franklin! Flatlanders are welcome despite what you hear. You won’t hang. I can’t even conceive it! We’ve oodles of room and we’re known for our beer. Bring plenty of cash and please leave it. If you’ve got a hankerin’ for livin’ on beans, out west where it’s generally sunny, then check out the gold camps and by all means, visit Hangtown and bring lots of money!


My buddy and I had taken a load of freight over to a little gold camp in the foothills.  The mule throwed a shoe, so we was running late and decided to call it a day and spend the night.  The mining camp had a dandy, little community theatre, and, in hopes of killing some time that evening, the folks was throwing an impromptu talent show. There was a fifty-dollar prize for first place, so all the miners was filing through doin’ jigs & flip flops & such, and telling all manner of outrageous, longwinded whoppers that had never failed to bust up Ma & Pa, back home. My buddy insisted that if I was to read a page or two from my journal, they’d be mesmerized.  I did and they weren’t! So, after two or three minutes of dead silence and growing humiliation, I was staring at my feet in mortification when I noticed that one of my brogans was untied and fixin’ to fall off. I immediately hoisted my foot up on the high lectern and began lacing my shoe. Well, folks began to marvel at my flexibility and dexterity, and some fellow in the front row asked if I could wrap my leg plumb around my neck!  I assured him that I couldn’t, and another old guy wagered ten bucks I was mistaken.  Confident of some easy cash, I hauled off and swung my right leg for my left shoulder with all the determination I could muster.  My loosed brogan flew off, and my big toe became deeply embedded in my left ear, right up to the second knuckle.  Instantly, my leg muscles cramped up, in a bunch, and my back went into spasm! Just when I figured things couldn’t get no worse, the frayed cuff of my overalls began tickling my nose, and I went into fits and convulsions of violent sneezing!  This sneezing persisted and grew in intensity, until a particularly virulent sneeze went directly down my pants leg, turning my pockets wrong side out and instantly inflating my long johns!  Reacting quickly, the horrified stage manager immediately dropped the curtain, cracking me on the cranium and knocking me colder than a dogcatcher’s heart!  About 45 minutes later, I come to in the local hoosegow, serving a three to six week sentence for vagrancy, disturbing the peace, and indecent exposure. That concluded my stage career.  And this concludes my dream.


I remember sitting by a crackling fire high in the Sierra Nevada’s, and listening to the ill-tempered Jerseys filing past with their cowbells clanking, their babies bawling, and the old bull curling his lip and looking for work. I remember standing on the rough plank sidewalk outside the Ivy House, inhaling the aroma of grilled ribs sizzling over Manzanita coals, and watching the massive freight wagons lumber by with harness squeaking, hames bells jingling, and the iron-clad rims of hickory-spoked wheels smashing the gravel to dust beneath their cumbersome tonnage of crocks of butter and barrels of fragrant cheese. I remember believing that my whole life would be a long and wondrous adventure.  And it was.


If I could turn the clock back and live my life once more, I believe I’d take a slower pace, not hurry like before. I’d spend my life in Placerville, when the Ivy House still stood, when the whole town smelled of doughnuts, little Fords and weathered wood; when school was taught with chalk on slate, each hour marked by a bell, luncheon served from paper bags, and a pint of milk was swell! When horse and buggy still raised dust and little Fords were few, when little girls weren’t exempt from lust, but little boys had no clue; when belts were worn with shirts tucked in, and Pomade clogged our comb, when we took our best girl to the dance and palms caressed while walking sweethearts home. I know it’s just a silly dream. I know it can’t come true. I know it just sounds foolish now to share it here with you. But my wish for every one of us is that we’ll live each minute, treasure every hour of life and every loved one in it. Hold tight to your memories of days when life was good, when Main Street smelled of doughnuts, little Fords and weathered wood.  SC


I spent the best years of my life, up on Reservoir Hill, on Great Grandpas’ 40 acres, outside of Placerville. My days were unfailingly happy, my disappointments few, amid fields of golden poppies, ‘neath skies of china blue. I’ve hiked Manzanita covered hills and orchards lush with pears, with pear juice dripping from my chin, till it washed away all cares. Jackrabbits hid in ambush along each dusty trail, the only other sound, the call of California quail. Blackberries were my quarry, beneath the summer skies, drenched with homemade ice cream, and wrapped in the golden crust of Grandma’s pies. Adventures with the neighbor kids were led by our pet raccoon, with summer nights spent beneath the stars, lit by a flickering campfire and the moon. Holidays meant Granddad’s house, with kinfolk by the dozens, and Great Grandma sharing memories to entertain the cousins. She’d share her tales of days gone by, with eyes welled up with joy, recalling memories from her youth, back when even Grandpa was a boy. And I soaked up each and every word, and treasured every minute, memorizing every face, and each expression in it; Praying that my loved ones lives would stand the test of years, and facing disillusionment as reality tempered innocence with tears. Now I too am a granddad, with memories of my own, sharing tales from long ago of precious souls I’ve known. I’ve cherished each and every day, through every joy and tear, and I wouldn’t change a single thing. I relish every year. But oh to be a child once more, and live on Reservoir Hill, and face each day with childlike faith, and walk once more the streets of Placerville.


I remember sitting on Reservoir Hill, while watching storm clouds grow, and listening to the windswept pines as their branches filled with snow; the sense of silence building till it muffled every sound, but the gentle rush of snowflakes as they blanketed the ground; the American River canyon in the fogbank down below, and off in the distance Placerville with street lights all aglow. Just down the hill was granddad’s home and the warmth inherent in it. If only time were malleable I’d be there in a minute. I see my grandma at the stove with all the family there, my granddad’s sweet, mischievous grin, his white and wispy hair; the glimmer of the window panes, and the old dog at the gate, shaking the snow from his wiry coat and wondering why I’m late. Dear God, preserve our memories of glad days long ago, of happy lamp lit gathering and Hangtown in the snow; of all the precious loved ones who lived and loved but brief. May blessings grace our days, dear Lord, and hope, dispel old grief. May faith assure tomorrows joys despite the winds that chill, and each night bring us dreams of youth, old friends and Placerville. 


Soft through the pines, the summer breeze is blowing, sweet, solemn music to me. Lightly through my mind, old memories are flowing, tender thoughts of what life used to be; souls called away, golden days amid the tall grass; laughter lingers deep in my heart; pleasant moment’s shared, vibrant dreams of youth are ageless. Hope unites though time may bid us part. Shadows of time, when the hours passed in moments, tender moments priceless to recall; futures to share, happy destinies awaiting, summer slipping gently into fall. Seasons quickly pass. Our memories turn to treasure, God’s gift to those who remain. Sorrows slip away, while our hearts preserve life’s pleasure. Grief fades, while joy we retain.


Asa Camp was a pioneer, and a relative of mine. My great great grandpa headed west, back in ’49. The trail west was rugged, and the wild Sierras high. The golden prey illusive, but Asa was determined he would try. The plains were fraught with peril, and the road west took a toll. But at last they reached the summit of a steep and piney knoll. Down below was Hangtown, the end of a weary road; the mythical El Dorado, heart of the Mother Lode. There Asa Camp would spend his youth. There he’d wed a wife. There he’d father children through a long, industrious life. But first he made a second trip, In 1854. He knew the long, rut riddled route. He’d made the trek before. This time he brought the Oldfield’s west, in this saga that I’m tellin’. And when their daughter came of age, he married Laura Ellen. They raised four daughters and a son, in Hangtown through the years. They buried Ella on the hill, and persevered through tears. His hands were hard and callused. His smile warm as toast. He didn’t treasure company, but he was a gracious host. He mined the rugged south fork, and lived on Reservoir Hill, panning gold, hauling freight, and ruling home and hearth with an iron will. There his children married. Each lived their life with zest. And great great grandpa loved them all, but Asa loved the wild Sierras best. He cherished every blessing, neath the California skies. His life was spent in gratitude, and he died with the wild Sierra’s in his eyes.


Her stripes were worn and faded, her fabric, torn and frayed. Tattered stars hung loosely now, weakened by old battles and decayed. Still, she hung with dignity, despite her ragged state. Her very fabric promised hope although the hour was late. Just then, as dawn was breaking, came a rustling in the trees, a disturbance in the morning mist, and a cool, refreshing of breeze. The flash of nearby lightening, pulses quickened by the thrill, while meadows shook with thunder and a deluge took the hill. With that, Old Glory caught the wind, unfurled, as if to march. Despite the hail that tore her hems, she took the field and stretched out stiff as starch. And those who saw this marveled and recalled old glory’s youth. And hearts swelled near to bursting, quickened by old loyalties and truth. And every soul saluted, while new hope replaced old fears, and each heart pledged allegiance, and sealed their pledge with gratitude and tears.


When our hopes and dreams grow faded and we miss the friends who cared, and old times are consecrated by the golden hours we’ve shared; when the streets we tread so long ago come back to haunt our dreams, and we treasure those we used to know and conjure up old schemes; when old associates fill our heart and refresh our weary mind, and we feel as one though miles apart and old woes wax sublime, when our flesh at best contains us and we’re far from hearth and friend, may fond memories then sustain us till we meet at last again.


Up on the hill where the pines grow dense; where the fields are green and the sky immense, scatter one day my last remains, to be drawn in the earth by the gentle rains. Gladly did I tread this place with the gentle breeze upon my face, a faithful dog for company, and benevolent sun beaming down on me. Thank the Lord for the time we had, when rest was blessed and toil was glad, when joyous hearts rejoiced in truth, and we shared our hopes and dreams and youth. Look to the heavens bright and blessed. See me satisfied, caressed. Know at last I’m free from care. My dust is here, but my spirit there. 

Each and every day, each and every one of us, regardless of our circumstances, has a choice. We can squander our time fingering old welts, second guessing past decisions, and tormenting ourselves over the poor choices of others; or we can embrace a new day, brimming with opportunities for doing justly, loving mercy, and building foundations for a bright new tomorrow. Time is precious. Choose wisely.

Shannon Thomas Casebeer

Introduce me
Banana cream
Growing up in Placerville
Hangtown bits, beginning with walk to Hangtown
Smelled of doughnuts
The nostalgia bits
Close with reminiscence and Up On The Hill.

January 13, 2018

Having given this a good deal of thought, it occurs to me that, in order to achieve success as a writer, it’s not necessary to write a great big book or a whole bunch of books.  It’s only necessary to pen one little escape that millions will relate to and enjoy.  That’s what I set out to do.